Ann Arbor Art Center offers its "Art Now: Photography" as a virtual exhibit
With the coronavirus quarantine here to stay for the foreseeable future, the Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC) had a quandary with its sixth annual Art Now: Photography exhibit, which was scheduled to run in its gallery April 3 to May 2: cancel it, delay it, or make it an online exhibit.
A2AC opted for the online choice and launched Art Now: Photography on its original opening date over at annarborartcenter.org.
Juror Eleanor Oakes -- an assistant professor of photography at the College for Creative Studies and founder of Darkroom Detroit -- picked the theme "nothing is clear, nothing is certain" and the 36 photographs by 37 artists explore ambiguity, mental health, gender, and more.
Whether by chance or prescience, one photo stood out due to the way it dovetails with a current trend during the world's stay-at-home status.
The intention behind Niki Grangruth and James Kinser's photograph Whistler's Mother (after Whistler) was to play with gender constructs, but it also plays nicely with the quarantine game created by the Instagram account Covic Classics, which seemed to kick off the craze of re-creating classic paintings using whatever you have in your home during lockdown.
While I enjoyed seeing every work in Art Now: Photography, it feels unfair to "review" the exhibit since viewing these works online gives only a small glimpse into their artistry and skill. All of these photos are worth viewing and absorbing -- even if you have to battle technology to do so.
The gallery recommends using Chrome or Firefox to browse the virtual gallery, but you may still run into trouble if you have certain security settings or third-party blocker extensions installed. When I tried to look at the virtual gallery using Chrome, I could see the 3D room but none of the artwork hanging on the walks; additionally, moving through the room was deadly slow. I don't have Firefox installed, so I tried it on Brave, which locked up completely, and Opera, which worked fine after I allowed some of the blocked items (whatever they were) to be unblocked. So, if you want to play around with the virtual gallery view, you may have to play with browser settings -- or you can just click on the guided tour, which takes you through a simple carousel trip through the works sans 3D gallery.
I wish I could have clicked on the photos to enlarge them to examine details, but the fixed nature of both the carousel view and 3D tour doesn't allow for that. There is something called "detail view," but it increases the image just a smidge at best. And sometimes when I clicked on the information but to learn more about the work, the top of the description would be cut off due to the way the pop-up is restrained to the dimension of the gallery image. Additionally, there were times when I using the guided carousel tour and would click on the information button or detail view, and when I clicked out of those I would be returned to the 3D gallery view -- but then I would navigate to an image, click on it, and be returned to the carousel view.
The exhibition is separated into two gallery sections and when I clicked on the second one's carousel view, it didn't have the option to pause the exhibit or go back to a preview image. When I reloaded the page, the 3D gallery view came up when I clicked on the carousel view, only to feature no photographs inside the digital frames.
I'm convinced a lot -- if not all -- of these glitches are due to my various browsers' settings. I looked at Art Now: Photography and could never quite get things to work smoothly, even after trying to turn off any of the obvious settings and blocker extensions. And sometimes when I would reload the page, I didn't realize the blockers automatically turned back on.
I offer all this info not as criticisms, per se; a lot of my problems were likely down to user error. But with most people having some kind of ad or tracking blockers on their browsers -- whether through third-party add-ons or baked into the product -- I wanted to give people attempting to view Art Now: Photography a head's up for what they might encounter.
Perhaps a simpler interface would have been a better choice in order to sidestep many of these potential problems, but the Ann Arbor Art Center has long experimented with unique ways to stage its exhibitions, including virtual reality, and I support and appreciate the institution's desire to press forward in experimenting with how it presents art -- even if you might have to troubleshoot some glitches.
After all, what else do you have to do right now during this surreal quarandream?
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.
"Art Now: Photography" includes works by: Riley Arthur • Elizabeth Barick Fall • Christopher Bennett • Sarah C. Blanchette • Alicia Chiaravalli • Ben Cricchi • Jessica DeMuro • Dakota Evans • Olivia Ezinga • Dan Farnum • Guanru Feng • Livia Ferguson • Lars Gesing • Linda Gillespie • Niki Grangruth & James Kinser • Lawrence Hamilton • Izabella Herrera • Karen Hockley • Kassie Hyde • Dean Kessmann • Patricia Littlefield • Jill Nicole Luton • Patricia McCleery • Carley Milberg • Ashley Miller • Stephanie Paine • Gregory Piazza • Melinda Pope Lance Pressl • James Reeder • Ackeem Salmon • Mark Sawrie • Dana Smessaert • Kathy Taylor Brown • Nancy Unger • Kirsti Wall • Rebecca Zeiss.